Sky is falling on red snapper fishery

Are you one of the thousands of Louisiana anglers gnashing their teeth over changes in red snapper regulations for the 2007 season?

Well, if so, you might want to run out today and purchase a night guard to save what’s left of your pearly whites. If you think snapper regulations are ridiculous now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Susan Villere, Louisiana’s recreational representative on the Gulf Council, says the committee has been notified by the National Marine Fisheries Service that the total allowable catch (TAC) for red snapper will likely fall to 2 million pounds next year.

Sounds like a lot of fish, doesn’t it? Well, it ain’t.

This year, NMFS circumvented the Council, the committee normally in charge of setting limits and other regulations, to impose an interim rule that reduces the TAC for 2007 to 6.5 million pounds. It was 9 million pounds in 2006. In order to achieve that reduced goal, NMFS cut recreational creel limits from four fish per angler per day to two. Also, captains and crew on for-hire boats will be forbidden from keeping their catch.

Those are drastic cuts to a fishery that is considered the staple for the offshore Gulf of Mexico fleet.

But what will the regulations look like next year if NMFS reduces the TAC to 2 million pounds? Snapper will be just about as untouchable as goliath grouper (the politically correct term for jewfish).

And Villere, for one, thinks it all may be unnecessary.

“We feel the science is flawed,” she said. “We don’t feel like we’re getting the right information.

“We’ve got all these captains who stand up at the meetings and say they have no trouble catching their limits, and we’ve got all these commercial fishermen fighting over (snapper) permits. If the fishing is that bad, they wouldn’t be fighting over permits; they’d be telling us, ‘Why aren’t you buying me out?’”

But Villere said fishery managers have no choice but to select regulations based upon the science presented them.

“In my gut, I don’t think the science is right, but I took an oath in Washington that I’d rely on the science,” she said. “If the science is correct, the fishery is in terrible trouble.”

If it is indeed in that much trouble, it’s because of a reluctance on the part of NMFS in years past to make some very difficult decisions, according to Fred Miller, chairman of the Government Relations Committee of the Coastal Conservation Association.

“(NMFS) avoided the hard, necessary decisions in this fishery from the beginning and only now has realized that there is nowhere left to run,” he said. “The result is that all of us will have to pay now for more than two decades of their failed management.”

Miller agrees with most scientists, who say the chief problem with red snapper stocks is the ghastly number of fish that die as bycatch in shrimp trawls.

“If NMFS had done anything to rein in shrimp-trawl bycatch since 1979, we would not be in this difficult situation today,” he said. “Instead, they have managed this fishery into a literal dead-end.”

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About Todd Masson 616 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.

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